Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Thinking from the throne room

Entering your home bathroom, you leave everyday reality behind. (See Body Ritual among the Nacirema.) Escaping into this private and supremely personal setting seals you off from the outside world, much as meditation clears the head of noise and static.

You're free from jangling phones, the beckoning monitor, and the peering eyes of others. You can take your pants down or even strip naked without giving it a second thought. The space is yours. You can do what you want. Go ahead: make faces in the mirror; sing in the shower.

When seated on the porceline thrown, you're free to reflect on your experiences and think new thoughts. This morning I ducked out of a muted conference call to sit on the commode for a few minutes. My mind flashed on the peculiarities of the visible spectrum.

Here's the gist. Our environment is chock full of electro-magnetic waves, from cosmic rays to x-rays to FM radio to TV to shortwave to electricity. Visible light is a tiny band of frequencies between infrared and ultraviolet. This is the only part of the spectrum picked up by our eyes.

Let's apply the spectrum concept to size. Things come in all sizes, from quark to nano to planetary to galactic and so forth up to cosmic. Newton's laws of motion, like visible light, hold true in the middle of the spectrum. "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." It's clockwork. It's predictable. Yes or no. Logical.

However, go to the small end of the size chart and all bets are off. Waves become energy, energy becomes waves, and you can determine the mass of a particle or its velocity, but never both. At the spacey end of the size spectrum, time warps, black holes, and string defy logic.

In fact, logic only seems to apply in the midrange of the size continuum. Everything larger or smaller is unpredictable. Making sense of the passage through complexity at the top and bottom of the scale is like the calculus. You describe what's going on by examining a thin slice of the flow. This isn't reality; it's an approximation. So, too, Newton's Laws only hold true in a limited context.

Sometimes logic comes up empty. I find this liberating. Chalk the unexplainable up to complexity. (Complexity is scientific jargon for "Shit Happens.") It's not possible to have all the answers, so don't fret about it.

Like Stephen Wright's observation that "Every place is in walking distance if you have enough time," I believe that everything's connected to everything else if you look far enough along the network. For that matter, nothing ever ends. But now 'tis time for a temporary hiatus as I leave the lavatory to return to that conference call.

Mind Jet and other thoughts


Trees versus file cabinets

Filed under: Mindjet, Mind Mapping, Collaboration, Information Visualization — April 11, 2005 @ 6:31 am

Not to go on too much about this…but it just goes to show how much we have come to accept these less-than-enlightened metaphors in our work lives. The file cabinet metaphor was appropriate back in the day when people wore skinny ties and had three martini lunches (sigh…). But that was a long time ago.

How far has our work environment evolved since then? In some ways, light years. In others, not so much. The two things that boggle my mind are:

1. That we would try to organize our thinking by using a mental image of a grey metal file cabinet: How memorable is that?

2. That we communicate essentially using a modern version of the telegraph. The metaphor there is send a message, receive a message, send a message, receive a message…Yes, I’m talking about email. It’s great because it’s so immediate. But it is so linear! Reading threaded conversations is like unwinding a scroll.

Neither of these metaphors — both of which are at the absolute CORE of how we try to run our professional lives — reflect the ways huge numbers of us best store knowledge or communicate with one another…

Monday, May 30, 2005

Water Over the Dam

Hey, high-tech, would you mind slowing down? I'm trying to write a book here. Social software changes month by month. I turn in my manuscript this November. Geez. Today's social software scene will be history before the book hits the stands twelve months later. The text version must be supplemented with web updates.

Since I don't want to spend the rest of my life maintaining link lists in an ever-faster world, I will need to set up a wiki others can help maintain.

The Social Software Weblog

Home of the Social Networking Services Meta List
Posted Feb 14, 2005, 5:55 PM ET by Judith Meskill

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Tom Malone at Supernova

Audio of MIT Sloan School of Management professor Thomas Malone's perspective talk from last year's Supernova conference

I'll end with Thomas Malone's fitting abstract:

"We are in the early stages of an increase in human freedom in business that may in the long run be as important a change for business as the change to democracy was for governments. New technologies are making it possible for the first time in human history to have the economic benefits of very large organizations and, at the same time, to have the human benefits of very small organizations, things like freedom, flexibility, motivation and creativity. Information technology is reducing the costs of communication to such a low level that it's now possible for huge numbers of people even in very large organizations to have all the information they need about the big picture to make their own decisions for themselves about what they do rather than waiting for people above them in some hierarchy to tell them what to do."




Thursday, May 26, 2005

Safari U

Email.Email article link
Blog this.Blog this

The Future of Textbook Selection

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Malcolm Knowles, from Infed

Malcolm S. Knowles on informal adult education

The major problems of our age deal with human relations; the solutions can be found only in education. Skill in human relations is a skill that must be learned; it is learned in the home, in the school, in the church, on the job, and wherever people gather together in small groups.

This fact makes the task of every leader of adult groups real, specific, and clear: Every adult group, of whatever nature, must become a laboratory of democracy, a place where people may have the experience of learning to live co-operatively. Attitudes and opinions are formed primarily in the study groups, work groups, and play groups with which adults affiliate voluntarily. These groups are the foundation stones of our democracy. Their goals largely determine the goals of our society. Adult learning should produce at least these outcomes:

Adults should acquire a mature understanding of themselves. They should understand their needs, motivations, interests, capacities, and goals. They should be able to look at themselves objectively and maturely. They should accept themselves and respect themselves for what they are, while striving earnestly to become better.

Adults should develop an attitude of acceptance, love, and respect toward others. This is the attitude on which all human relations depend. Adults must learn to distinguish between people and ideas, and to challenge ideas without threatening people. Ideally, this attitude will go beyond acceptance, love, and respect, to empathy and the sincere desire to help others.

Adults should develop a dynamic attitude toward life. They should accept the fact of change and should think of themselves as always changing. They should acquire the habit of looking at every experience as an opportunity to learn and should become skillful in learning from it.

Adults should learn to react to the causes, not the symptoms, of behavior. Solutions to problems lie in their causes, not in their symptoms. We have learned to apply this lesson in the physical world, but have yet to learn to apply it in human relations.

Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potentials of their personalities. Every person has capacities that, if realized, will contribute to the well-being of himself and of society. To achieve these potentials requires skills of many kinds—vocational, social, recreational, civic, artistic, and the like. It should be a goal of education to give each individual those skills necessary for him to make full use of his capacities.

Adults should understand the essential values in the capital of human experience. They should be familiar with the heritage of knowledge, the great ideas, the great traditions, of the world in which they live. They should understand and respect the values that bind men together.

Adults should understand their society and should be skillful in directing social change. In a democracy the people participate in making decisions that affect the entire social order. It is imperative, therefore, that every factory worker, every salesman, every politician, every housewife, know enough about government, economics, international affairs, and other aspects of the social order to be able to take part in them intelligently.

The society of our age, as Robert Maynard Hutchins warns us, cannot wait for the next generation to solve its problems. Time is running out too fast. Our fate rests with the intelligence, skill, and good will of those who are now the citizen-rulers. The instrument by which their abilities as citizen-rulers can be improved is adult education. This is our problem. This is our challenge.

Malcolm S. Knowles (1950) Informal Adult Education, Chicago: Association Press, pages 9-10.

While the concept of andragogy had been in spasmodic usage since since the 1830s it was Malcolm Knowles who popularized its usage for English language readers. For Knowles, andragogy was premised on at least four crucial assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners that are different from the assumptions about child learners on which traditional pedagogy is premised. A fifth was added later.

1. Self-concept: As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being

2. Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.

3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.

4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness.

5. Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal (Knowles 1984:12).

Informal networking with social software

This morning I received this email from Mary Hodder:

mary hodder has invited you to be a member of foodporn.

To find out more about this group and to accept or decline
this invitation, click here:


For the past six months I've been using Flickr, the free photo sharing service, to store the images that appear in my blogs. Since this was a solitary pursuit, I didn't bother with names, tags, or descriptions. Now I've joined four other people who more or less hang their food photos in a shared gallery. I added names and descriptions before labeling my first eight contributions to the foodporn pool.

We'll see where this shared interest takes us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Life is an open-book exam

Dramatis Personae

In the past, theories of learning focused primarily at the individual, conveniently ignoring the fact that humans are social animals, we are enveloped in culture and tradition, and always in the company of other people. Harkening back to The Muppet Show, and Fozzi the bear's great riddle, I call this figure "Noman." (Noman is an island.)

This is a group, specifically a work group. It's here because often having a competency in one person in a group is sufficient. Only one person in a real estate office needs to be a notary.

These symbolize the connected individual, a worker who is a plugged into the net. When I speak of a learner or a worker, I assumed that they are connected.

In sales training, it's given that all trainees have a phone. The unit that must perform is salesperson+phone. Sales training doesn't bother with alternatives such as catching the bus for face-to-face meetings or sending smoke signals.

Similarly, among knowledge workers, especially in the future, it's a good bet that they have ready access to the net. They use it as facilely as we use a phone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Everything Good is Bad

from New Yorker, Gladwell

In recent years, for example, a number of elementary schools have phased out or reduced recess and replaced it with extra math or English instruction. This is the triumph of the explicit over the collateral. After all, recess is “play” for a ten-year-old in precisely the sense that Johnson describes video games as play for an adolescent: an unstructured environment that requires the child actively to intervene, to look for the hidden logic, to find order and meaning in chaos.

One of the ongoing debates in the educational community, similarly, is over the value of homework. Meta-analysis of hundreds of studies done on the effects of homework shows that the evidence supporting the practice is, at best, modest. Homework seems to be most useful in high school and for subjects like math. At the elementary-school level, homework seems to be of marginal or no academic value. Its effect on discipline and personal responsibility is unproved. And the causal relation between high-school homework and achievement is unclear: it hasn’t been firmly established whether spending more time on homework in high school makes you a better student or whether better students, finding homework more pleasurable, spend more time doing it. So why, as a society, are we so enamored of homework? Perhaps because we have so little faith in the value of the things that children would otherwise be doing with their time. They could go out for a walk, and get some exercise; they could spend time with their peers, and reap the rewards of friendship. Or, Johnson suggests, they could be playing a video game, and giving their minds a rigorous workout.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


George Siemens has started a blog entitled Connectivism.

Borrowing from Sun Microsystems, George writes "The Network is the Learning." Individuals can't do things unless they're connected. Value resides in the connections. Connections create context. Hence, my formulation that "Learning is making good connections."

Connectivism takes the locus of learning out of an individual's head, because the complexity and gushers of knowledge required to understand the world have become too large to fit inside any single brain. It's like Johnny Mnemonic, whose head is about to explode because his memory is stretched beyond the limits of capacity. There's too much to keep up with when you try to do it all on your own.

Unlearning is a bitch because it takes rewiring internal connections, and resistance to change is a sanity defense mechanism. In my personal (un)learning, the notion of complexity made it easier for me to shift my beliefs and connections. Logic is a figment of the imagination, my brain's way of presenting me with an orderly world. Formal logic no longer maps to reality.

First we make our habits, then our habits make us. Paradigm drag, the reluctance to leave one's comfort zone, makes it easier to follow the paths that have been traveled before than to explore new territory. Learners must continually look around to assess whether old rules are out of sync with new realities.

May 12
Science tells us our genes aren't that different from those of squirrels or giraffes or dolphins, but we humans are obviously at the top of the food chain. Why do you think that is? We're not the biggest or the fastest or the strongest or the most hearty. We don't enjoy first-mover advantage. Yet, for better or worse, we dominate the planet.

The one thing that separates humans from other species is our ability to transmit culture. We've evolved the means to transfer the lessons of one generation to the next. Not just that, our discoveries, our know-how, our technology... these things are always advancing.

How on earth did we ever think we could analyze human activity, learning for example, without considering our continuous interaction with culture? Three hundred years ago, Rene Descartes proposed that we solve problems by dividing them into the component parts and figuring out one part at a time. Swell. The world simply doesn't work that way. No one is completely empty-headed, a blank slate. Unless you're raised by wolves, you are inextricably linked to a human consciousness that's been built up over the past ten thousand or more years. Culture and human beings are linked together as tightly as inside and outside; you can't have one without the other.

Hence, the standard definitions of learning describe a dream world that simply does not exist.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Jay's Personal Info Management

Bloglines | Furl | Del.ioci.us | Spurl | Edu_RSS |

Heaven knows how much time I spent skimming knowledge, following threads, gawking at photos. Mary Hodder "doesn't do paper." In the e-world, she saves everything. Zounds. RSS can be a universal frontend.

Gmail is getting me into the routine. Discard when I feel like it. Save anything I may want to come back to. Sort when I need something.

As a systems thinker, I need to look at inflow, processing, and outcomes. It gets chaotic very quickly. I just read a very insightful article by Dave Snowden. Reading it, I had to stop and reflect a number of times. I laughed. Play-within-a-play again. I cut and pasted particularly interesting text into InfoSelect. I need the electronic equivalent of those little colored tabs one uses to mark pages in books.

Static knowledge used to be important: it's in the books on the shelves. Now that the world has sped up, knowledge is ever changning and what's important is the flow.

Tag literacy.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Optimism & Drive

Shoshana Zuboff in Fast Company

Does he ever feel discouraged? "The weight of the environmental problems we face can be overwhelming," he admits. "But 50 years ago, these issues weren't even on the radar screen. I focus on how I can make a difference. There are so many ways to have an impact. I try to make sure I am moving in the right direction each day."

After college, Namrita Kapur spent three years teaching high school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "I realized early on that making money wasn't enough," Kapur says. "I needed to be doing something I loved and believed in." Her deeply held commitment to sustainable development eventually led her to graduate school for degrees in forestry and business. She followed a winding road, from land management to environmental lobbying to investment banking with a specialization in alternative energy, until she found the job that put it all together. She now helps lead a firm that provides credit to coffee growers certified for organic and sustainable agricultural practices. "I wouldn't be here had I not pursued my values and my dreams about how I want to live my life," she says. "Our work has a profound impact. We have substantive, respectful relationships with the people to whom we make loans. They're at the center of our business model -- we need each other."

Does she get down? "Of course I get frustrated -- there is so much to do! But then I tap into the roots of my values, and that energy sustains me. I recharge myself when I see the fruits of my effort, and I feel hopeful. When there are obstacles, I am pragmatic: I find new tactics, new directions, and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Optimism thrives on the art of the possible."

As Olson, Kapur, and many other young men and women prove every day, there is a case for optimism:

These conversations reminded me that optimism is nourished by practicality. Optimists can celebrate the glass half-full in an imperfect world. Optimism is not the same as idealism. In fact, it may be just the opposite.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Amazon, Google, etc.

Use these examples to draw a picture of the ideal learning ecology:

Google build internet platform to harnass and access knowledge, and they invest heavily in building quality products.

GMail - a 1GB email storage system
Google Groups - discussion forums
Google Scholar - searching scholarly publications
Google Search - Internet Searching
Google Answers - answer any question you want
Blogger - internet publishing solution
Google News - up to date news headlines

I've already written about Amazon as the ideal LMS. Passive capture. Got a note tonight hawking a Steven Johnson book because I'd bought from him before.


The Environment or Ecosystem/baa
Frederick Taylor told workers, "You're not paid to think." Now, thinking is precisely what we're paid for, yet we still work in buildings and social structures designed for industrial efficiency, not thinking and learning. If the ability to learn is indeed the only lasting competitive advantage, we need to make some major modifications to the places we work.

governance -- who's in charge

time -- evolution to conceptual age

We’ll examine dimensions of informal learning through stories. I’ll list the stories I’m working on now but I’m still actively searching for more. Each of these will turn into a chapter.

Corporate Visualization. Case study of Gil Amelio entering National Semi with unintelligible strategy, David Sibbett creating group graphics. Impact of technique. Do cost/benefit.

Communities of practice. Cisco seeding and nurturing communities, information/not instruction, VoD & v-search, Correlation, calculate revenue attributable to program.

Chunking Content. O’Reilly & Safari. Safari U. Self-directed learners. Time pressures. Customer stories. Supporting blogs. More than a publisher: street cred.

Environment. Not cubes! Montessori school. A good environment for learning encourages collaboration. Buy a pool table. John Akers “Get back to work.” Smokers. Sofas. Interview Bill Matthews at MIT, UC New Media group, Steelcase. Museum, library. IDEO.

Storytelling. Maybe Steve Denning. Appreciative inquiry. Soren on distance stories. Power of narrative.

Being There. F2F. Prusak on IBM. Why presence is key. Do it up front. Microsoft emails. Email and flames. Other social dynamics.

Workflow Learning. Merge learning and work. Built-in simulations. Performance-centered design.

Collaboration. Expertise location. Presence awareness. IBM and IM. Gravitation. Triage of sources. Ensemble

Mobile Learning.

Knowledge sharing, Plogs. Bottom-up KM. John Cone?

Massive multiplayer games.

Meta-learning. Learning to learn. Double loop. Celebrating corrections. Reflection.

Establishing a learning culture. Marcia interview? With Jim?

Institute for Research on Learning? Do a history? Interviews with alumni.

Alumni (ex-employee)


Mentor, coach

Social network analysis

Free-Range Learners
Grocery stores in Calfornia sell two types of chicken. One is the mass-produced chicken, a bird that lives its entire life cooped up in a chicken concentration camp, unable to do anything save eat, crap, and lay eggs. The other is the free-range chicken, who has "plenty of room to roam and eat their entirely natural diets and grow and live free of stress." (http://www.mercola.com/forms/chicken.htm)

Free-range learners are people with the opportunity to make choices. This section of the book offers stories and advice about making the most of your time on the range.


Instructional designers map out corporate training. They analyze what people need to be able to do and come up with the optimal means of equipping them to do it. Today, we need to become our own instructional designers. It’s like having a personal trainer giving you mental workouts.


1. You are what you read
2. Life is random/complexity
3. Optimism, expect results, believe in change, homeostasis
4. Begin with a goal in mind
5. Learning conversations
6. Out of comfort zone
7. Make a plan, 80/20
8. Choose a direction
9. Beginning middle end model
10. Craft your personal elevator pitch & obituary
11. Go up a level
12. Parking affirmations
13. Sleep on it
14. Gut a book
15. RSS
16. Write to learn
17. Blog to learn
18. Lead to learn
19. Pace: Mrs Hopkins
20. ADD & reverse
21. Study groups, learning groups
22. Mental simulations & prototypes
23. Storytelling, dance
24. Brainstorming
25. Circadian rhythm
26. Notebook, journal
27. Mindmapping
28. Conversation
29. Serendipity
30. Mindfulness
31. Frames, swap disciplines
32. Personal KM, jump page, process vs one-time
33. Uncertainty
34. Photographs
35. What can I learn from this?
36. Jimmy Swaggart syndrome; don’t kid yrself
37. Focus: wash the dishes; artist
38. Concentration
39. Attention
40. Looking over shoulders
41. Free range: learner chooses path
42. Mastery & practice
43. Change local
44. Convene a meeting or conf call
45. Unlimited potential, Maslow, genius
46. Simplify
47. Keep eyes open
48. Intuition

How brains work

Different types of learning
Support devel of people, BankOne story

Learning lifecycle. Explicit to tacit. Formal to informal. Foundation to fine-tuning. Push to pull to design-your-push. Maturity


Intangibles make current accounting obsolete. ROI measures are deceptive.

Scorecards… Value networks that bridge social networks and business processes.

Generate credible payback in detail in this section. Use causal chains, reasonable assumptions, probabilities. This is key for believability.

Monday, May 02, 2005

from the Wiki


Take out a blank piece of paper or start a new document in your word processor. You're going to do what psychologists call "free association." For the next minute, I want you to reflect on the word learning. Write down whatever comes into your head. Don't make a big deal out of it. Be spontaneous. You may jot down a dozen things. Ready? Put the word learning in your mind's eye. Take a full minute. Go!

Most of the hundreds of people I asked to do this mention classes, courses, workshops, teachers, education and school. Those things are Formal Learning. That's not what we're going to talk about. We're going to look into something more important: the learning that's not prepared in advance. We call it Informal Learning.

School and pre-planned learning events teach but a tiny fraction of what we know about how to do our jobs, appreciate our culture, get along with others, and enjoy our lives.

What we learn out of school is underappreciated. If I learn a new piece of software through trial-and-error, I'm not as aware of learning it as if I'd taken a class, even though I learn more from hacking than from listening. Why? Because formal learning earns credentials. In the world of IT, certificates of skill correlate directly with salary

Learning is everything people do to adapt to their environment that is not genetically determined. DNA is the hard-wired aspect of the body; learning is its malleable software. At the present time, you're stuck with the gene sequences you inherited. All you can change is your learning. Luckily for us, learning is a skill. You can improve your ability to learn.

Learning comes in two varieties: formal and informal. We're going to focus primarily on informal learning, for that's how we humans, especially adults, acquire most of what we know.

Formal learning is school, courses, classrooms, and workshops. It's official. It's scheduled. It teaches a curriculum. Most of the time, it's top-down. Learners are evaluated and graded on mastering material someone else deems important. Those who have good memories or test well receive gold stars and privileged placement. Graduates receive diplomas, degrees, and certificates. Those who do their own thing or test poorly are called failures and are humiliated.

Informal learning flies under the official radar. It can happen intentionally or by accident. No one takes attendance, for there are no classes. No one assigns grades, for success in life and work is the measure of its effectiveness. No one graduates, because learning never ends. Examples are learning through observing, trial-and-error, calling the help line, asking a neighbor, traveling to a new place, reading a magazine, conversing with others, taking part in a group, composing a story, reflecting on the day's events, burning your finger on a hot stove, awakening with an inspiration, raising a child, visiting a museum, pursuing a hobby, traipsing out of one's comfort zone, and on and on and on.


For you as an individual, we'll give you fifty ways to make your learning better, faster, cheaper, more enjoyable, and more productive. You're invited to cherry-pick the shortcuts, hints, models, and stories that resonate with want you're trying to accomplish. With a topic like informal learning, we're certainly not expecting you to read every page and learn every lesson.

For the manager of an organization, we'll offer ways of looking at informal learning that build a more adaptable workforce, strengthen relationships with customers, reduce operational inefficiencies, and strengthen the connection between strategy and execution. Since people learn their jobs informally, it's foolish to leave it to chance.


This book focuses on adults, not children. We concentrate on learning that improves work although work and life are so intertwined that this is a lot more than job skills training.

Plenty of books have been written on training, instructional design, needs analysis, managing the training function, stand-up instruction, calculating ROI, and conducting meetings. None have addressed informal learning. Learning has been described as lighting a fire. We're more interested in preparing tinder and striking matches than watching old flames.

The literature on education, schools, and school reform is vast. It's not my area of expertise, so I don't intend to supplement the pile.

Informal Learning is how we acquire most of what we know.


Say the word learning, and most of us think of school, courses, classrooms, and workshops. These are elements of formal learning. Formal learning usually comes with an official seal of approval. It's scheduled. It teaches a curriculum. Learners are evaluated and graded. Those who have good memories or test well receive gold stars and privileged placement. Graduates receive diplomas, degrees, and certificates.

Formal learning takes place when people are not doing. Schools for children are deliberately a world apart. They are greenhouses built to shield and nurture the young by protecting them from the harsh winds of reality. Young adults are sequestered on campuses where town and gown rarely mix. Some continue in academic careers, never to see life outside the ivory tower.

Business managers view learning as an activity that takes people off the job. Often, it removes workers from their place of work. Traditional corporate training sometimes teaches people about the work rather than teaching them the work.


Learning. Ho-hum. What's in it for me?

For you personally, happiness, personal growth, self-confidence, wealth.

For organizations, profit, agillity, fiscal health, reputation for good works.

To gather these rewards, I don't expect you to work harder, follow a formula, or attend Tony Roberts revival meetings. You won't attend classes, listen to gurus on tape, nor obsessively number your goals 1, 2, and 3.

Rather, I want to give you a cheatsheet to learning in modern times. I'll encourage you to take advantage of what you already know.

Learning is a process

A workshop on leadership skills, a windsurfing lesson, and a cooking class are each learning events. Often, that procession of events is all we see of learning.

You can always rise above events to examine process. We can change our focus from telephoto to wide angle. I think of it as going up to the balcony for a look back from a higher level. One of my professors called this flying up in the helicopter. Those who prefer fixed-wing aircraft speak of getting the view from 20,000 feet. It's all the same concept: rising above the level of events to look for patterns in the process.

You've no doubt heard the proverb, "Give a man a fish and he will not be hungry today. Teach a man to fish, and he will be hungry nevermore." Why stop there? "Show a man how to teach fishermen, and his village will always have fish dinners."

Processes are like that. Events come and go. Process improvement is a gift that keeps on giving. Improve a process by 5% this year and you receive 5% the next year and five percent after that ad infinitum. It's like compound interest if you don't make withdrawals. If the Native Americans who sold Manhattan for $24 in glass beads had left the money in a mutual fund, they could buy Manhattan back and still have funds left over.

Learning is a process. You can improve your processing, for instance, cutting the time it takes you to figure something out, improving your social networking skills, or not being like the lumberjack who was too busy chopping trees to find time to sharpen his axe.

I just wasted an hour or my valuable morning time trying to tweak my browser (Firefox) to enable me to cut and paste in the wiki I'm writing this in. I never figured it out. I am not a happy camper. If the authors of the wiki software had thought about it, they would realize that this disability will impact almost every user coming to their software. Not once, but over and over again. WIth my mind focused on my thoughts rather than the tools to communicate them, I tried to cut a couple of superfluous words. Again, I was whisked to an obsolete error message on the Mozilla site. Grrrr.

The software authors have mistaken a process improvement for a single event. They don't see the forest for the trees. They receive a bug report. It goes into the bug-log. When it comes up in its time, they see it as Jay's problem, an incident. It's a recurrent sitatuation. It a process flaw. If they don't fix it, I predict they'll go out of business.

Individual Learning

"Know thyself," commanded Socrates. Nietsche told us to "Be who you are." Joni Mitchell sang "I don't know who I am but life is for learning."

authentic happiness goes here

When my parents were growing up, it was common knowledge that adults could not learn. At least they couldn't learn very much. After all, a fifty-year-old can't compete with a multi-lingual five-year-old. Old brains were thought to fill up with stuff, leaving scant room for more. Others figured they calcified, sort of an arthritis of the noggin. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

John Taylor Gatto

Underground History of American Education

From the introduction:

Our problem in understanding forced schooling stems from an inconvenient fact: that the wrong it does from a human perspective is right from a systems perspective. You can see this in the case of six-year-old Bianca, who came to my attention because an assistant principal screamed at her in front of an assembly, "BIANCA, YOU ANIMAL, SHUT UP!" Like the wail of a banshee, this sang the school doom of Bianca. Even though her body continued to shuffle around, the voodoo had poisoned her.

In my dream I see Bianca as a fiend manufactured by schooling who now regards Janey as a vehicle for vengeance. In a transport of passion she:

  1. Gives Jane’s car a ticket before the meter runs out.
  2. Throws away Jane’s passport application after Jane leaves the office.
  3. Plays heavy metal music through the thin partition which separates Bianca’s apartment from Jane’s while Jane pounds frantically on the wall for relief.
  4. All the above.
David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder. She’ll be locked in her place forever.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Learning Theory

The dictionary tells us that learning is "gaining knowledge or skill" or "a relatively permanent change in understanding or behavior." These definitions leave me cold, because they focus entirely on the learner, as if one can learn in a vacuum. That's impossible. Without a stimulus, there's no response. Without a context, there's no content. Without faith that things can work better, there is no incentive to learn.

Learning is interaction. It results from people striving to improve their fit with their surroundings.

William James figured this one out in 1890. Complex thinking is a product of evolution; it's a survival tool. The best learners survive. Learning is a means of using one's consciousness and behavior to adapt to the environment.

Consciousness can't be chopped into little pieces for scientific study; it's all or nothing. A stream of consciousness is ever flowing; stop the flow and it's something different. You can't take a sllice for analysis.

Researchers have come up with marvellous frameworks to describe the process(es) of learning. Bandura talks of Attention, Retention, Behavior, and Motivation. Don Norman describes accretion, structuring, tuning, and analogy.

ref on James: The Story of Psychology, by Morton Hunt
The William James site at Emory University

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